? Policemen firing teargas shells to disperse the protestors during a demonstration against excessive electricity load shedding in Faisalabad. —Photo by ONLINE
LAHORE: With no respite from outages and loadshedding, power riots spread across Punjab on Monday and an anarchic situation prevailed in many cities and towns of the province. Protesters damaged public and private property, torched a passenger train and blocked highways. Rail traffic on the Lahore-Pindi section was suspended after an arson attack on a passenger train in Kamoki.
The worst-affected towns were Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Khanewal, Kasur, Okara, Sargodha, Sahiwal, Chiniot and Toba Tek Singh where stick-wielding youths were seen trampling whatever came their way with police doing almost nothing to keep the situation under control.
The protests against power outages stretching over 20 hours started in the morning in several cities and towns continued till the evening. The situation in Khanewal, Gujranwala and Kasur remained tense till late night.
A protester died and six others were injured when gunmen of prime minister’s adviser Hamid Yar Hiraj opened fire in self-defence in Khanewal. The unruly mob wanted to attack the residence of the adviser in the town.
Attacking residences of public representatives during the power riots is a new phenomenon witnessed over the past two days. On Sunday, protesters had attacked the residences of a PPP MNA and the Punjab’s Zakat minister in Sahiwal district.
In Narowal, angry protesters blocked the Shakargarh-Zafarwal road for more than five hours and attacked the motorcade of PPP MNA Chaudhry Tariq Anis. The firing caused a stampede in which three protesters were injured.
In Khanewal, a strike called by local traders closed the town and a large number of people gathered outside the house of Mr Hiraj. When the protesters started hurling stones, the guards deployed at the residence opened fire and injured seven protesters, one of whom died in hospital. He was identified as Muhammad Ali, 15.
As the size of the mob surrounding the residence of Mr Hiraj grew, police used teargas to disperse them.
Hundreds of protesters blocked the national highway near Khanewal for about six hours and clashed policemen who tried to restore traffic.
Another group of protesters stopped the Sargodha-bound Millat Express by lying on the tracks at Khanewal station. Police used batons and teargas and arrested one protester. The mob later moved to the city police station and got the detainee freed. Protesters from various localities and adjoining villages were continuing to gather outside the residence of Mr Hiraj till late in the night and a police contingent was called from Multan and Lodhran to keep the situation under control.
Three bogies of the passenger train which was set on fire in Kamoki in Gujranwala district were destroyed. The train was on way to Sialkot from Lahore. The protesters first pelted the train with stones, forcing the passengers out, before setting it on fire. No casualties were reported.
Protesters blocked the GT Road in Gujranwala for over nine hours. They torched the office of a Gepco executive engineer and several motorcycles amid teargas shelling by police.
In Kamoki, protesters also ransacked a police station and torched the motorcycle of a milkman who suffered serious burn injuries and was admitted to local DHQ hospital in a critical condition.
In Faisalabad, a large mob looted a shopping mall and damaged banks and CNG stations.
The worst-hit was the Jaranwala Road area where more than 2000 stick-wielding protesters attacked and damaged five banks and three CNG stations. They also looted several shops. Some policemen and protesters were injured in clashes.
Protesters attacked a hotel and damaged a CNG station and a number of vehicles on the Canal Road.
In Kasur, which has been facing over 20 hours of outages for several months, highly-charged protesters set ablaze electricity supply company’s offices, a grid station, a van and residential quarters of its officials in Kanganpur area.
In Sahiwal, villagers hit by three days of power blackout blocked the national highway near Akhterabad bridge.
In Toba Tek Singh, the Business Express train going to Lahore from Karachi was stopped by hundreds of rioters for about 45 minutes. They also blocked the Toba-Gojra road for more than two hours.
In Sargodha, protesters damaged Fesco offices and installations.
In Okara, protesters damaged Lesco offices and blocked Faisalabad Road.
Being tired of power outages stretching up to 18 hours, residents of Rawalpindi and adjoining areas also resorted to violent protests and blocked roads by burning tyers.
Loadshedding made tubewells out of order causing an acute shortage of water. Traffic on the city’s busiest Benazir Bhutto Road came to a standstill when angry protesters blocked it for hours.
In Chakwal, protesters set on fire the main office of the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco), an old grid station, the city’s sub-divisional office and a police van in Odherwal Chowk.
In Attock, an angry mob torched a sub-divisional office of Iesco and blocked roads.
In Taxila, protesters blocked the main road and pelted power transformers with stones.